Looking at the weather forecast, we realized that the next day had the potential to be a perfect day. So we meet at seven. When the sun rises above Lake Washington, we already are well on our way out of town.
After a stop in Snohomish at a café to warm up (and also the last opportunity to enjoy a tasty croissant), we head into the hills on empty roads. Above, Ryan is on our favorite descent that swoops into an enchanting valley.
The frost enhances the beauty of the landscape. Thanks to the short climbs at regular intervals, we do not get cold.
On one shady uphill, a spring runs across the road. The water has frozen overnight, but we know to expect this, so it doesn’t pose any problems. (Going south on this stretch means that the shaded north-facing slopes are uphills, not downhills.)
We soon reach Sultan. From here, most cyclists take the busy Highway 2 toward Stevens Pass. It’s not much fun, but today we only will spend a total of 6 miles (out of 140 total) on busy roads. (And usually, there is a shoulder.)
Instead of clinging to the highway, we have mapped out an alternative route, which takes in backroads and even a levee along the Skykomish River.
The levee ends in a railyard in Gold Bar, but from there, it’s only a short hike back to the road.
Gold Bar is the opportunity for another stop and refreshment. Jan’s excitement about being able to buy Coca-Cola imported from Mexico – in a real glass bottle and made with real sugar – shows that he is a “retro-grouch” at heart. Or is it just that he doesn’t like high-fructose corn syrup?
From Gold Bar, more backroads lead us to Index. Every time I approach this “wall,” the geologist in me wonders whether it is formed by a bedrock ridge, or whether it is a moraine left behind by the Cordilleran Ice Sheet advancing up the valley 15,000 years ago. The cyclist in me takes the opportunity to get out of the saddle to stretch my legs as I climb over it.
Reiter Road still is closed to motorized traffic, and the winter storms have deposited a few leaves and branches on the blacktop.
Having this beautiful road all to ourselves borders on magic.
Finally, we reach Index. Jan eats the croissant he has carried in his handelbar bag since our stop in Snohomish. Index is a lovely spot that is bypassed by the highway and has seen better days. From here, more backroads (and a few miles on the highway) can take you to Stevens Pass and then onward to Eastern Washington, but today, Index is our turn-around point.
On the way home, we get one last look at the majestic Cascade Mountains as we head back to Monroe and its Taco Truck for a very late lunch.
The sun is setting on Mount Baker, more than a hundred miles to the north, on this short winter day. While Jan takes this photo, Ryan spots a coyote in the field. From here, it is just two hours, mostly on the Burke-Gilman Trail, until we are home. As we part our ways, we agree that it has been a day well spent!